Take Two, They’re Small – Buy a License and Support Conservation

September 19, 2012

Conservation Policy, Wildlife

For some, purchasing this year’s hunting license may bring back to mind a discussion which took place in some Michigan circles about a year ago.  Although not entirely a new idea, the suggestion from DNR Wildlife Chief Russ Mason was to encourage non-hunters and others who support wildlife and fisheries habitat enhancement projects to buy a hunting and fishing license.  After all, their price is well below that of most states who are seen as offering anything comparable to Michigan’s outdoor recreational opportunities and however unlikely their actual participation in hunting and fishing activities might be, it would help support these critical programs.

Such an idea should not be viewed as some outright donation to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, but perhaps as a “mini-grant.” The beauty of this concept is that funding in the form of fish and game license dollars is unique in the sense that it can be used as a threefold match for fisheries and wildlife habitat and restoration projects.  This pool of money is made possible through the federally-administered Pittman-Robertson/Dingell-Johnson programs, the former of which is now celebrating its own 75th anniversary.

These funds were originally made possible through the collection of an excise tax on firearms and ammunition which, prior to the passage of the 1937 legislation, had gone directly into the U.S. Treasury.  As a result of the passage of the P-R Act (Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration of 1937) these funds were redirected to the Department of the Interior and conditional upon their redistribution to states for restoration programs.  Since its passage, over two billion dollars have been returned in the form of grants back to the state fish and wildlife agencies.

Since state eligibility for these funds is predicated on formal grant applications which require a state match and are in part based upon total fish and game license sales, the capacity for additional P-R funding exists if more state license revenue were to be received.  As an example of the math, a $15 license can potentially be leveraged into an additional $45 in federally-administered P-R funds.  This $60 total could then become $120 if just two of those license were sold.

In our view, encouraging a broader purchasing demographic for hunting and fishing licences in this manner is a better idea than some form of non-consumptive outdoor recreational license.  In addition to the fact that we would like to believe that the citizens of this state and elsewhere should have the opportunity to passively restore their own mental health by spending time in our forests, lakes and streams without purchasing a license to do so, we do fear that such a license does increase the likelihood of further user conflicts.  It doesn’t require much imagination to envision the possibility of a “licensed” mushroom hunter claiming as much rights to an area as a spring turkey hunter.

Obviously, advancing this idea of convincing others to purchase a license for a sport that they do not participate in is a radical one, but it is for that very reason it will need to be done within our own outdoor families for it to be even incrementally successful.

This message should also be taken to our license sales retailers who are frequently the first even indirect contact many have with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  As many others have pointed out, when license seller attitudes and comments about the DNR are negative and misinformed, the prospect of encouraging additional license sales through these portals seems entirely unlikely.  Although it’s a topic for another day, we hope and expect that the entire non e-license sales platform and process be reexamined as a part of the DNR strategic planning process.

We would also encourage other state and local conservation/hunter-angler advocacy organizations to begin promoting the idea of expanded license sales.  The idea of  couples and families purchasing licenses for others who may not otherwise be participating, or perhaps buying a full season or all-species license instead of a limited license would at least help bridge the gap until such time we are able to more fully solve the issue of sustainable funding for our fish and wildlife agencies.

So please go ahead and take two, they’re small.

About Northern Michigan Conservation Network

The mission of the Northern Michigan Conservation Network is to "connect conservation-minded hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts to those issues affecting Michigan's forests, waters, and wildlife."

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